UConn makes one last trip to RAC to face Rutgers :
Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014
Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2014 23:01
The UConn men’s basketball team will look to surpass .500 for the first time in American Athletic Conference play when it takes on Rutgers Saturday night in Piscataway, N.J.
Saturday’s visit to the Rutgers Athletic Center will be UConn’s last for the foreseeable future. Rutgers will be moving to the Big Ten Conference this summer, and the only other matchup between the two teams is at Gampel Pavilion on March 5.
The Huskies (15-4, 3-3 AAC) are coming off a 90-66 win against Temple, during which UConn outrebounded the Owls 45-25. After allowing Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell to grab 13 rebounds on Jan. 18, UConn, which ranks 149th in rebounds per game and 206th in rebounding margin, kept Temple’s Anthony Lee, the American’s leading rebounder, off the boards. Lee finished with no rebounds Tuesday night at the XL Center.
“We played Connecticut basketball,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said after Tuesday’s win. “We defended for most of the game. We had a couple lulls here and there, but I like how the guys came out and played at a level five.”
UConn’s blowout win came without junior guard Ryan Boatright, who was in Illinois for the funeral of his cousin, Arin Williams, who was killed last week. Boatright is expected to be back in the lineup Saturday.
Without Boatright, UConn got strong performances out of Lasan Kromah and Niels Giffey, while Terrence Samuel played a larger role in the game, finishing with two points and two assists in 15 minutes.
But the Huskies’ offensive explosion was led by leading scorers DeAndre Daniels and Shabazz Napier.
Following a dismal performance of only three points against Louisville, Daniels unleashed on Temple. The junior forward made 11 of 19 shots, including four of six 3-pointers, and he finished with a career-high 31 points to go along with 12 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.
“I don’t know what he ate, but we’re going to make sure we find out,” Ollie said. “And we’re going to keep him on that same plan. He wasn’t really scoring early, but he was just going for every rebound. Some of them he wasn’t getting, but that activity and that energy, it always finds the basketball…He didn’t settle.”
Napier scored a career-high 30 points against Louisville and exploded again Tuesday, finishing with 27, matching a career high with five 3-pointers. With his 27 points, Napier moved into 16th on UConn’s all-time scoring list (1,569), and his six assists moved him into fourth all time (564).
On Wednesday, Napier was named to the 25-player midseason watch list for the Wooden Award, which is presented to the national player of the year in college basketball.
“It makes a coach’s job really easy when you have a point guard that knows the game as well as he does, and knows when to pick and choose his spots and when to get everybody involved.”
Rutgers (8-11, 2-4 AAC) enters Saturday’s game in a situation similar to one that UConn found itself in not so long ago.
The Scarlet Knights opened the week with a trip through Texas to face Houston and SMU, and both the Cougars and Mustangs easily beat them. UConn opened American play with a Texas road trip and left the Lone Star State with two losses for its trouble.
In total, UConn and Rutgers have shared six opponents with the same results for both teams. Both defeated Yale, Temple and Central Florida and lost to Houston, SMU and Louisville.
Rutgers’ biggest flaw is on defense. The Scarlet Knights rank ninth in the 10-team conference in scoring defense, allowing 74.9 points per game. Meanwhile, UConn is the American’s third-best scoring team at 75.6 points per game.
Saturday’s game tips off at 7 p.m. and will be aired on ESPNU.